ese paratexts offered the assurance that children's literature was not intended to supplant, but to supplement, the parent.
That all these rival points of origin can compete with one another is because important questions of definition remain unresolved. If we ask what was the first children's book, we are really asking what children's literature is. Do
Medievalists have recently argued that children's literature began, in terms of both content and readership, in the Middle Ages. Various manuscript abridgments of The Canterbury Tales survive, for instance, that were especially designed for, and used by, children. Other critics have gone further back still, arguing that material was being produced for children to read in early China, classical Rome and Greece, ancient Egypt, and even ancient Sumer in the third millennium BCE
hat Newbery and his contemporaries did not do was suddenly invent children's literature ex nihilo. Instructional books, both secular and religious, had been marketed directly at children for centuries. Among the first British printed books were William Caxton's Book of Curtesye (1477) and his translation of The Book of the Knight of the Tower (1484)
adults invented a new commodity, deliberately designed to give a newly identified audience what they thought it wanted, or, rather, needed. There are three different kinds of origin to consider in this chapter then, and, on the surface, they can seem incongruent. First, there is the historical genesis of children's literature as a commercial product. Second, there is the idea that children's literature has naturally developed from a culture of adult-to-child storytelling. And third, the biographical accounts surrounding the conception of individual books. What this chapter will argue is that, far from being contradictory, as C. S. Lewis' strictures suggest, all three kinds of origin are importantly interrelated.
What we want, it appears, is the assurance that published children's books have emerged from particular, known circumstances, and, more specifically, from the story told by an individual adult to individual children
6 Barbara Wall, The Narrator's Voice. The Dilemma of Children's Fiction (London: Macmillan, 1991), pp. 2 and 9.
r Hunt, Criticism, Theory and Children's Literature
What we want, it appears, is the assurance that published children's books have emerged from particular, known circumstances, and, more specifically, from the story told by an individual adult to individual children.
nd, of course, children read texts that were not necessarily designed exclusively for them.
erhaps the first story appealing directly to children, because of its account of a boy's use of a magic amulet to make his cruel step-mother fart uncontrollably
he problem with all these attempts at definition is that we can seldom know precisely who used which books, or how they responded to them. We might think of the Puritan texts of the late seventeenth century as so brutally pious that no child could have taken pleasure from them, but what evidence we have argues that they were seen as empowering and enjoyable, relished by children and adults equally
alternative strategy might be to define children's literature on the basis of certain qualities of the texts themselves. Perhaps ‘proper' children's books are only those which include rounded child characters, not mythical heroes or fairy tale figures, nor the improbable ciphers, like ‘Polly Friendly' or ‘Francis Fearful'
speak differently in fiction when they are aware that they are addressing children'.
Wall argues, a particular kind of direct ‘narrator–narratee relationship' that ‘is the distinctive marker of a children's boo
But such generic generalisations invite dissension, for children's literature has become so diverse that it is easy to think of examples that stretch any of these definitions beyond breaking point.
Less tendentious is a means of definition that takes us back to the mid eighteenth century. Beyond questions of readership and response, and of generic textual characteristics, children's literature is a commodity, a product that first became securely commercially and culturally established in the age of Newbery. For the first time, publishers like him began to devote substantial resources to a product that was marketed at children and their guardians.
ut his general observation that children gradually became the object of greater parental and societal solicitude and psychological interest remains convincing. Certainly there were more children around. The English population rose by about 20 per cent between 1720 and 1770. What these demographic and cultural shifts meant was a society increasingly full of, and concerned with, children, and willing to invest in them both emotionally and financially.
t, Locke's ideas were part of a movement already underway rather than an abrupt innovation. In 1692, a year before the publication of Some Thoughts Concerning Education, S
Rousseau may have warned, in Émile (1762), against forcing boys to read too early, but the attempt to systematise education that he and many others were embarked on inevitably resulted in the publication of more, and more carefully crafted, children's books
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